What happened to the steam ferries?

Steam Ferries on the Waitemata

Where have all the steam ferries gone?

Toroa in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Graham Stewart

The Auckland Steam Ferries

The young colonial town of Auckland, built on the isthmus between the Waitemata and Manukau harbours, for centuries traversed by Maori waka, was completely dependent on sea transport: goods and people to and from Britain and the Australian colonies; supplies by waka and schooner from Maori to feed and shelter the burgeoning immigrant population; and official and civilian transport by whaleboat across the Waitemata Harbour to the signal station at Flagstaff, later to be the North Shore suburb called Devonport.

The first steam ferry on the Waitemata, Emu, began work in 1860 and sank off Motutapu the same year. But steam was unstoppable—steamer after paddle-steamer; company after ferry company. The paddle-steamers—among them Takapuna, Tainui, City of Cork, Tongariro, Victoria, Alexandra, Birkenhead, Britannia, Eagle and Osprey—were nearly all side-wheeler double-enders with a rudder and a wheel at each end. They were two-decked, most with at best an awning for the shelter of the upper-deck passengers. Smaller ferries catered for the upper Waitemata, as far as Riverhead. Several companies were involved, but by the end of the 1880s many of the services had been absorbed by the Alison family’s Devonport Steam Ferry Company.

PS Eagle approaching Auckland wharves. Fergusson Limited Industra Series Postcard

When the paddle-steamers were worn out, early in the twentieth century, the Devonport Steam Ferry Company looked to Sydney, Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York and the Great Lakes for inspiration. The answer was a fleet of locally-built screw steam passenger ferries, double-deckers, with a propeller, a rudder and a wheelhouse at each end. These were pushmi-pullyu ferries like the earlier side-wheelers; go that way, and come back this way, without having to turn around. The first built was the Albatross of 1904, then Kestrel, Pupuke, The Peregrine, Ngoiro, Makora and Lake Takapuna; the last was the Toroa (Maori for albatross) in 1925. Four steam double-ended vehicular ferries, The Goshawk, The Sparrowhawk, Mollyhawk and Eaglehawk, and the diesel-powered Korea (named after the bird, not the country) catered for the ever-increasing vehicle traffic across the Harbour. Toroa was built for the Devonport Steam Ferry Company by George T. Niccol at St Marys Bay; his yard had produced Pupuke and the four steam vehicular ferries. The other double-enders were built by Charles Bailey Junior except for Korea, by Percy Vos.

The Ferry Basin, Auckland: Ngoiro and Toroa in the foreground; Pupuke, The Goshawk and Condor in front of the Ferry Building; and The Peregrine to the right. Auckland Museum Collection, PH-NEG-C6568-C18913

The opening of the Harbour Bridge from the central city to the North Shore in 1959 eventually killed off all bar three of the double-enders, Kestrel (diesel-engined since 1952), Ngoiro and Toroa. Kestrel operated until 2002, became a Tauranga restaurant, and is now a hulk at Auckland. Ngoiro lost her engine and became a floating restaurant at the Viaduct basin, and is now dry-berthed in sand at Tairua as the clubrooms of an aquatic group.

Toroa was steam powered to the end of her service in August 1980—55 years mainly on the Devonport run, about 10,000 passengers a day at the peak, upwards of 70 million over her whole career. Out of survey, she joined the double-ender death row at Westhaven Marina. Four ferries were broken up and buried in the Westhaven carpark reclamation—The Peregrine, Takapuna, Makora and Korea— but Toroa was rescued at the last minute by the nascent Toroa Preservation Society. After years of intense work, thwarted intentions and a destructive sinking at Birkenhead Wharf, she was brought ashore above Henderson Creek next to the northwestern motorway where she is being expertly rebuilt.

Toroa alone of all the Auckland double-enders has survived, largely unaltered and with steam machinery intact. When restored she will operate in steam again on the Waitemata as a heritage excursion ferry, operating very much on the model established by TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu. She will provide the experience and romance of steam travel to new generations of Aucklanders and visitors, and will preserve and present an important era of Auckland’s maritime social history in a very tangible manner.

Double-Ended Screw Passenger Ferries on the Waitemata

Albatross 1904 C. Bailey Jnr 123 999 4 Converted to diesel 1952. Ceased running 1959. Scrapped 1968
Kestrel 1905 C. Bailey Jnr 123 1258 4 Converted to diesel 1951. Converted to restaurant, Tauranga 2003-5. Returned to Auckland 2010. Sank at Wynyard Wharf while awaiting restoration. Refloated minus superstructure. Future uncertain
Pupuke 1909 G.T. Niccol 100 738 3 Ceased running 1959. Beached at Ponui Island 1962 and later destroyed
The Peregrine 1912 C. Bailey Jnr 130 1364 4 Ceased running 1959. Broken up and buried at Westhaven 1981
Ngoiro 1913 C. Bailey Jnr 101.8 836 4 Ceased running 1959. Machinery scrapped 1968. Converted to restaurant 1982. In sand-berth as clubhouse & restaurant, Tairua
Makora 1921 C. Bailey Jnr 131 1190 4 Ceased running 1974. Broken up and buried at Westhaven 1981. Engine survives in the Waikato
Takapuna 1924 C. Bailey Jnr 130 1265 4 Ceased running 1967. Broken up and buried at Westhaven 1981
Toroa 1925 G.T. Niccol 131 1221 4 Ceased running 1980. Under restoration at Henderson to authentic, seaworthy condition to operate again in steam on the Waitemata. The last of the steam ferries

Vehicle ferry Eaglehawk arriving at Mechanics Bay

Vehicular Ferries on the Waitemata

Condor 1902 Bow McClachan; assembled  G.T. Niccol 116.1 NA Built as single-deck combined vehicle–passenger ferry. Converted to passenger ferry on Albatross model 1906. Broken up 1936
The Goshawk 1909 G.T. Niccol 124 35 Ceased running 1959. Scrapped 1960; run aground off Greenhithe and burnt.
The Sparrowhawk 1911 G.T. Niccol 105 20 Ceased running 1959. Hulked and used as shingle bin at Matakana; later scrapped
Mollyhawk 1923 G.T. Niccol 108.75 36 Ceased running and scrapped 1959
Eaglehawk 1926 G.T. Niccol 120.6 36 Ceased running 1959. Scrapped 1960; run aground off Greenhithe and burnt.
Korea 1937 P. Vos 118 33 The last double-ended ferry built at Auckland, diesel powered. Ceased running 1959. Scrapped 1981; buried in Westhaven reclamation
Alex Alison
(ex-Frances Peat)
1930 Poole & Steele 138 48 Built Sydney, Australia. Operated Auckland 1946 to 1959. Sold to Tasmanian Government 1959; sank in Tasman Sea en route 1960
Ewen W. Alison
(ex-George Peat)
1930 Poole & Steele 138 48 Built Sydney, Australia. Operated Auckland 1946 to 1959. Sold to Tasmanian government 1959; renamed Mangana. Last heard of as a working punt at Hobart